Scarborough councillors told to watch what they say on social media

Statements made by Scarborough’s councillors on social media could land them in hot water in the future under proposed changes to local government standards legislation.

Tuesday, 19th March 2019, 12:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th March 2019, 12:18 pm

Scarborough Council’s Standards Committee heard today that following a review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, councillors would now be presumed to be acting in their official role when speaking in public.

Currently, as part of a standards complaint, it would have to be proved that a councillor was acting in their role as an elected member when the misconduct that led to the complaint occurred.

In total, 21 complaints were made against Scarborough borough and parish councillors in 2018 and none was referred to the Standards Committee for further action.

A report written for today’s meeting by the borough council’s deputy monitoring officer Carol Rehill said that one obstacle was present in a number of cases.

She wrote: “A number of the complaints that resulted in no further action did so because the alleged behaviour could not be said to have taken place when the councillors against whom the complaints were made were acting in their capacity as elected members.”

Now that could be about to change.

Following the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review councillors will now be judged to be acting in their official role unless it can be proved otherwise.

A new guideline for councils has been issued. It reads: “Councillors should be presumed to be acting in an official capacity in their public conduct, including statements on publicly accessible social media.”

Other changes including tougher sanctions available to authorities, such as suspending councillors for six months, are also being proposed.

Ms Rehill’s report notes that some members of the public have reported that they have decided not to make complaints about misconduct due to the limited number of sanctions available to a council, which included an apology and training.

A suspension would only be used for repeated lower level breaches of the code of conduct or for a serious offence.

The changes have been welcomed by Standards Committee member Cllr Tony Randerson (Lab).

He said: “I’ve always believed that if you are a councillor then you are a councillor in everything you do.

“If you write something online then people will think you are writing it as a councillor.”

Committee chairman Cllr Godfrey Allanson (Con) agreed that members should be responsible for their own words outside of the council chamber.

Carl Gavaghan, Local Democracy Reporting Service